Desert Architecture at the Final Frontier
Located in the remote Jornada del Muerto (“journey of the dead”) desert basin in southern New Mexico, Spaceport America is the first facility conceived and built specifically for space flight. The Spaceport lies along and is visible from the historic fifteenth century Camino Real trading route. The facility has launched several sub-orbital test flights. The Spaceport building itself was designed by architects Foster and Partners and was ceremoniously dedicated in October, 2011 following five years of planning and construction.
Originally conceived and initially funded with the support of academic institutions and New Mexico Senators, the spaceport concept gained momentum in 2003 with the decision to locate the lucrative X Prize Cup in New Mexico. In 2006, Sir Ricahrd Branson announced that Virgin Galactic would make New Mexico its new home and with public funding, Spaceport America was born.
Unlike conventionally designed air-travel facilities, the Spaceport building integrates all functions and operations. The visitor’s concourse mingles with astronaut areas and shares views of spacecraft hangar facilities and the flight control room. The Spaceport’s organic form lies low in the desert landscape. Visitors and astronauts enter through a deep channel formed by retaining walls. These gallery walls continue to an exhibit space before entering the “super-hanger” which houses the spacecraft and simulation room and finally arrive at the terminal itself.
Architect Norman Foster designed the building to use locally obtained materials and regional construction methods. Both sustainable and sensitive to its surroundings, the building is LEED platinum accredited. The design also employs traditional regional design principals. The low-profile form couples with the thermal mass of the desert floor to buffer daily temperature extremes of the New Mexico environment. The building form also catches westerly winds for natural ventilation.
Virgin Galactic ( a company owned by Sir Richard Branson) expects to start space tourism flights in late 2013. Over five hundred tickets have been sold so far at a price of $200,000 each (round trip).